TUCSON, Ariz. — So many banners hang from the ceiling of the McKale Center, it can be easy for visitors to Arizona’s home court to spend a few minutes in awe of the building’s history.
The current roster isn’t bad, either. And so the top-ranked Wildcats (14-0, 1-0 Pac-12 Conference) have the full attention of the visiting Washington Huskies and coach Lorenzo Romar, who on Saturday will take their turn at trying to knock off the Pac-12’s premier beast.
All others have failed. Most recently, Washington State scored 25 points in a humiliating loss Thursday night at McKale.
The Wildcats’ defensive performance in that game, Romar said, was “confirmation. They’re
It was also confirmation that if the Huskies (9-5, 1-0) are to have a chance Saturday, their transition game — and, therefore, their own defense — must be as on point as it was during Thursday’s impressive 76-65 victory at Arizona State.
They must rebound, too: Arizona ranks third nationally in rebounding margin (12.6) and snags 41.5 percent of all offensive rebounds available.
“They miss a shot, it’s almost like part of their offense,” Romar said.
A half-court-style game is not likely to favor the Huskies. Arizona has earned its No. 1 ranking by playing defense better than most teams in the country, limiting opponents to 54.4 points a game (third best nationally) and holding them to 36.2 percent shooting from the field (fifth best).
“Once they get back and they’re set, you have all these panthers back there ready to pounce — these Dobermans, man,” Romar said. “It makes it a little more difficult to score. If we can get out and get some easy baskets, that would definitely help our cause.”
The teams are different in style and composition. Arizona starts three players — freshman forward Aaron Gordon, sophomore forward Brandon Ashley and 7-foot sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski — who are listed as 6-8 or taller. Washington starts four guards — none taller than 6-5 — and one forward.
As such, the Huskies want to run and attempt to force mismatches in transition – and in their half-court sets.
Asked how he thinks UW’s smaller lineup matches up with the lengthy Wildcats, Romar said: “We’ll find out. We’re going to have to be scrappy. We can’t sit back and let them go at us. We have to be aggressive because we’re going to have a size disadvantage obviously.”
UW forward Perris Blackwell, who at 6-9 is the tallest player in the Huskies’ starting lineup, said he hopes his team can use the Wildcats’ size against them.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but they have to guard us on the opposite end,” Blackwell said. “They’ve got bigs, and we’re going to have some smaller guys guarding them, so we’re just working on what we’re going to do on defense with fronting and being on the help side.”
This will be UW’s third game against a top-ranked team in Romar’s 12-year career. The Huskies defeated Stanford on the final day of the regular season in 2004, and they lost to UCLA early in conference play during the 2006-07 season.
“That’s why you play Division I basketball,” said junior forward Desmond Simmons, whose defensive acuity surely will be relied upon Saturday. “That’s why you come to the Pac-12, to play in games like this.”
ONE WHO GOT AWAY
There are more than a few folks who believe Gordon, a five-star recruit from San Jose, Calif., and Arizona’s leading rebounder as a freshman, would have looked OK in a Washington uniform.
Romar is one of them. The UW coach has been friends with Gordon’s father for years, and thought he was favoring the Huskies for a long while during the recruiting process.
“For a long time, he was coming to Washington,” Romar said. “But he came to Arizona, and he was very impressed with what was going on. He felt here he could have a chance to win a national championship.”email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple